2020 has been a good year for visual novels set in coffee shops and cafes. The excellent and stylish Necrobarista immediately springs to mind, but despite its name (and being set in arguably the best coffee shop in all of video games), it doesn’t actually involve making a single drink. Coffee Talk, on the other hand, is all about the ins and outs of the barista experience, and it’s one of the loveliest and most chilled visual novels I’ve played all year.
Set in a near-future version of Seattle where werewolves, orcs, humans, elves and other assorted mythical creatures are all upstanding members of society, you play as the owner of a late-night coffee shop that only ever opens from midnight until the early hours of the morning. Think Netflix’s Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, but high fantasy and only about making drinks rather than delicious Japanese dishes.
It’s very relaxing, and the conversations you have with regulars and newcomers alike feel very cosy and amiable against the low-fi beats of its exquisite soundtrack (which you can also pick yourself using the in-game music player). You don’t have much control over the story, mind. You’re a largely silent onlooker to the ensuing drama of these characters’ lives, and while your character occasionally interjects, your words don’t have any bearing on the outcome of the story.
Instead, it’s all down to the quality of the coffee you serve, as the drinks you brew have the ability to change people’s moods and alter their behaviour. The inner workings of the drinks system is fairly subtle, admittedly, and I often wondered just how much of an effect I was having on each set of conversations.
Still, they’re a fun set of characters to while away the hours with, and it tackles some weighty and knotty topics such as inter-racial relationships and the tensions that fame brings to a family with a deft and well-observed hand. By the end I was really rooting for everyone I’d met, and I was always looking forward to seeing who would turn up on any given evening.